I recently finished a 2017 anime series called ‘A Centaur’s Life’ and I was blown away by two things, firstly by how amazing it was–and secondly, how lowly regarded it was (at least if the MAL rank and people’s general indifference was anything to go by). So rather than make a simple review I thought I’d unpack what issues are among the most polarising but highlight them as 10 of the reasons that I think ‘A Centaur’s Life’ is the Best Slice of Life Anime!
1. It’s a monster girl anime (except it’s not–and that apparently makes them less interesting?)
On the surface ‘A Centaur’s Life’ shares some similar themes with Monster Girl Anime (few as there are) but it’s not really about ogling monster girls–and they’re not really monster girls anyway. Everybody in this ‘world’ is a product of divergent evolution where six legged mammalians became the dominant species and four-legged (a.k.a what we consider human) became extinct. Yes there are people in this world who are centaur’s, and one’s with angel wings and cat ears–but they’re ostensibly just different races rather than different species. Also, there’s men too who belong to these races, so you know, not just monster girls!
2. The anime intersperses it’s SoL shenanigans with intermittent world-building (Rather than just having an info-dump prologue that explains all the rules of this ‘alternate universe’–which apparently some people would prefer?)
We’re never given the full scope of what this world is like beyond the first episode explanation of how the races of this world evolved. We’re given glimpses into aspects of the world–such as people being imprisoned for treating a person of a different race negatively. Likewise we’re never even sure of the political structure of other countries aside from a news report talking about how America has a newly elected “Democratic Communist”. This gradual unfolding of the world is one of the joys of the series as every small, but substantial piece of information feels like its hard-earned and all the more rewarding because of it.
3. The girls in the anime talk about sexuality and body confidence issues (But in a really frank and honest way that puts off fans of ‘traditional’ SoL shows)
In Episode 4, Hime (our titular Centaur) gets a love-letter from a boy but rather than accept the letter she runs away embarrassed. When endlessly quizzed about her uncharacteristic retreat by her friends she bashfully replies that she’s been paranoid that her vagina might look gross. The cause of her hang-ups are from a kindergarten field trip to a dairy farm where one of her classmates tactlessly presumed her vagina would look like a cow’s. Nozomi suggests that they all take a look at each other’s to reassure Hime that there’s nothing for her to be self-conscious about. While the scene is played mostly for laughs it was still a refreshingly honest approach to an issue many people (regardless of gender or genitals) suffer from.
4. Episode 9 is about the Third Reich and WW2-era concentration camps (some might call that tonal whiplash, but if you’re paying attention it’s exactly on message)
Things take a turn for the dark and serious half way through Episode 9 as we’re afforded a flashback to an alternate history WW2 where sadly things aren’t too dissimilar to our own history. A boy watches on helplessly as centaur soldiers execute his family in the street, he’s then forced aboard a train with other civilians and taken to a forced labour camp where he and his ilk are starved, beaten and worked to an inch of their life. It’s a devastatingly effective series of scenes that actually has a surprisingly uplifting ending that I won’t spoil but is par for the course for this series’ messages about tolerance and living with people from vastly different cultural backgrounds and exceedingly different physical attributes. If you’re not expecting it, it might feel like a truck to the face but sometimes something unexpected does not necessarily equal an inconsistent tone.
5. The girls talk about ~typical SoL girl struggles~ like weight loss, studying and boys (Also racism, religion, reproduction, art, politics–things girls in these types of shows apparently shouldn’t talk about!)
The expression “never talk about religion or politics” is fine enough for common every-day exchanges with acquaintances or work colleagues–but why shouldn’t girls in these types of shows have opinions on more lofty subject matter than the ones usually afforded SoL characters. In one episode, Sassasul (an Antarctican “snake-person”) explains that her race doesn’t have time for religion as they are a “logic-based society” to which the three girls comment they aren’t that dissimilar then.
6. The girls are cute and innocent and wholesome (but it also has nudity–which is apparently unforgivable!)
Only 3 of the episodes contain nudity, and 2 of these episodes contain non-sexualised context appropriate nudity. But as always when “children” are involved there’s always a moral panic despite the scene in question from Episode 3 being as innocent as two sister’s bathing. And what’s consistent about the majority of these types of scenes in this show (along with a similar pool changing scene in Episode 7) is that the scenes are less about simple exploitation and more about examining the difficulties living with different body shapes–especially centaur bodies–are for these girls.
7. The parental figures are expectantly peripheral to the show (except they exist as ‘Real’ characters with busy lives and worrying about the future and with interests of their own)
While the collective screen-time for the various parents on this show would probably amount to less than 10 minutes throughout the entire series–their appearances are meaningful and interesting. For example Hime’s mother is scene talking to another parent about investing in the stock market for financial security. Meanwhile a whole essay could be written on the complex relationship between Manami and her father who spends the majority of his spare time painting; for pleasure not for profit which remains a surprising issue of contention between the father and daughter.
8. It has episodes with a decent amount of fan service (And then it has episodes with none–almost like a show doesn’t have to be defined by a single attribute!)
On the other side of the coin from people who were “offended” by the inclusion of any kind of nudity or fan-service, are the people who only watched it for the fan service. Perhaps out of virtue of it being a monster girl anime (which it isn’t) they thought it would supply the goods, and while it does–it does so sparingly that some might call it unreliable. I’d call it realistic.
9. The show has such a wide breadth of topics it wants to cover and characters it wants to visit (And 12 episodes just isn’t enough time to do it all!)
A genuine complaint and one I share (to an extent) is that there’s a lot going on in this series and that a lot of characters don’t get nearly enough screen-time. The mermaid race for example has one of the most interesting societies in the series, with their streets and buildings (including schools) permanently flooded to allow ease of travel. From an aesthetic standpoint alone these towns are intriguing–and then there’s the more religious aspect of their society and the revelation that ‘Antarcticans’ may be trying to interfere with their religious practices for ~unknown reasons~. We get what amounts to a single episode with this part of the world and it’s just not enough! But at the same time that’s hardly the fault of the show if it’s adapting a manga that’s unfurling its world and characters at the same slow pace.
10. The show is a lot of different ‘Genres’ of anime in one (Go in expecting just one ‘Genre’ and you’re bound to be disappointed)
Smarter bloggers than I have written on the seemingly pointlessness of using genres to define a show but I don’t think any show has ever suffered such a disservice due to the expectations of ‘genre’ that what people had going into this particular show. Too ‘real’ for CGDCT series, too ‘controversial’ for a SoL series, too much nudity for a ‘wholesome’ experience, too ‘wholesome’ for an ecchi. Too smart for a dumb comedy, too dumb for smart dramedy, too dramatic when it’s unexpected, too dull to be a drama. It’s messy… it’s LIFE… it’s ‘A Centaur’s Life’.
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